Tag Archives: Democracy

Too Much Democracy Is Bad for Democracy

The major American parties have ceded unprecedented power to primary voters. It’s a radical experiment—and it’s failing.
By Jonathan Rauch and Ray La Raja – Americans who tuned in to the first Democratic presidential debates this summer beheld a spectacle that would have struck earlier generations as ludicrous. A self-help guru and a tech executive, both of them unqualified and implausible as national candidates, shared the platform with governors, senators, and a former vice president. Excluded from the proceedings, meanwhile, were the popular Democratic governor of a reliably Republican state and a congressman who is also a decorated former marine.

If the range of participants seemed odd, it was because the party had decided to let small donors and opinion polls determine who deserved the precious national exposure of the debate stage. Those were peculiar metrics by which to make such an important decision, especially given recent history.

Had the Democrats seen something they liked in the 2016 Republican primary? The GOP’s nominating process was a 17-candidate circus in which the party stood by helplessly as it was hijacked by an unstable reality-TV star who was not, by any meaningful standard, a Republican.

Americans rarely pause to consider just how bizarre the presidential nominating process has become. No other major democracy routinely uses primaries to choose its political candidates, nor did the Founders of this country intend for primaries to play a role in the republican system they devised.

Abraham Lincoln did not win his party’s nomination because he ran a good ground game in New Hampshire; rather, Republican elders saw in him a candidate who could unite rival factions within the party and defeat the Democratic nominee in the general election.

Today’s system amounts to a radical experiment in direct democracy, one without precedent even in America’s own political history.

The two major parties made primaries decisive as recently as the early 1970s. Until then, primaries had been more like political beauty contests, which the parties’ grandees could choose to ignore. But after Hubert Humphrey became the Democrats’ 1968 nominee without entering a single primary, outrage in the ranks led the party to put primary voters in charge. Republicans soon followed suit. more>

Nobel Economist Says Inequality is Destroying Democratic Capitalism

By Angus Deaton – As at no other time in my lifetime, people are troubled by inequality.

Across the rich world, not only in America, large groups of people are currently questioning whether their economies are working for them. The same can be said of politics. Two-thirds of Americans without a college degree believe that there is no point in voting, because elections are rigged in favor of big business and the rich. Britain is divided as never before and, once again, many believe that their voice doesn’t count either in Brussels or in Westminster. And one of the greatest miracles of the 20th century, the miracle of falling mortality and rising lifespans, is no longer delivering for everyone, and is now faltering or reversing.

At the risk of grandiosity, I think that today’s inequalities are signs that democratic capitalism is under threat, not only in the US, where the storm clouds are darkest, but in much of the rich world, where one or more of politics, economics, and health are changing in worrisome ways. I do not believe that democratic capitalism is beyond repair nor that it should be replaced; I am a great believer in what capitalism has done, not only to the oft-cited billions who have been pulled out of poverty in the last half-century, but to all the rest of us who have also escaped poverty and deprivation over the last two and a half centuries.

But we need to think about repairs for democratic capitalism, either by fixing what is broken, or by making changes to head off the threats; indeed, I believe that those of us who believe in social democratic capitalism should be leading the charge to make repairs. As it is, capitalism is not delivering to large fractions of the population; in the US, where the inequalities are clearest, real wages for men without a four-year college degree have fallen for half a century, even at a time when per capita GDP has robustly risen. more>

Giving Europe political substance

By Mary Kaldor – Many of us who live in Britain feel embarrassed and ashamed by the contortions of our politics and the meanness of our government, towards the poor, the foreign and, particularly, the European—which is only going to get worse with Boris Johnson as prime minister.

Yet, paradoxically, the continuing struggle over ‘Brexit’ is an expression of democracy: the fact that the UK has not yet left the European Union is due to debates and positions which have been taken in Parliament, based on a mix of tactical advantage, public pressure and moral conscience. ‘Britain is thinking,’ I remember the great English-European historian Edward Thompson saying during the 1980s—‘and it only thinks every 50 years or so.’

Yes, the rise of right-wing populism has unleashed the dangerous demons of racism, homophobia, misogyny and general human cruelty. But it has also galvanised a new engagement with progressive politics, which could help to make possible the reforms needed if the EU is to survive until 2025.

The problem today is the weakness of substantive democracy: we have ‘a vote but not a voice’, said the Spanish indignados. And this is the consequence of three decades of neoliberalism.

The Maastricht treaty of 1991 was a compromise between the new wave of Europeanism, constructed from below by the peace and human-rights movements which opposed the cold-war divide during the 1980s, and the then newly-fashionable (if retro) market fundamentalism pioneered in Britain by Margaret Thatcher.

Maastricht enshrined in law the requirement to reduce budget deficits and the imposition on debtor countries of the burden of deflationary adjustment of fiscal imbalances. Meanwhile, the freeing up of capital movements and the liberalization of markets associated with the establishment of the single market speeded up the process of globalization, facilitated by the emergent information and communication technologies.

In a world where democratic procedures remain focused on the national level but where the decisions that affect one’s life are taken in the headquarters of multinational companies, on the laptops of financial speculators or otherwise in Brussels, Washington or New York, substantive democracy is evidently weakened. more>

The trilemma of Big Tech

By Karin Pettersson – Last week Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg took to the stage in San Jose, California, and presented his vision for the future at the company’s yearly developers’ conference.

The attention given to the conference by the world’s media was testimony to the fact that Facebook is now more powerful than most nation states. Its products provide the infrastructure for core democratic functions such as free speech, distribution of news and access to information. Our societies, to a larger and larger degree, are shaped by how Zuckerberg and a small elite of Silicon Valley business leaders choose to do business. And the results, frankly speaking, are catastrophic.

‘Have social media made the world a better place?’ Poppy Harlow of CNN asked the influential tech writer Kara Swisher ‘No, not now’ was the dry answer.

The founder of the modern web, Tim Berners-Lee, has called for regulation of the internet as the only way to save it, and the virtual-reality pioneer and internet philosopher Jaron Lanier has written a book about why people should get off ‘social media’ as soon as possible.

The current situation is clearly unsustainable and the measures taken so far to address it insufficient. But before discussing solutions we need to define what the problem is. And here it is easy to get lost in details and anecdotes. Not all of the problems of social networks are fatal to democracy.

The economist Dani Rodrik has framed the discussion around the state of the world economy as a trilemma, where hyperglobalization, democratic policies and national sovereignty are mutually incompatible. We can, he argues, combine any two of the three, but never have all three simultaneously and in full.

It might be conceptually useful to structure the discussion of the global information space in an analogous manner. One can have democracy, market dominance and business models that optimize for anger and junk—but only two at a time. more>

Democracy splutters—good governance under pressure

Amid political polarization and declining democratic standards, can OECD and EU countries sustain the good governance challenges such as globalization, social inequality and climate breakdown demand?
By Christof Schiller – Eroding standards of democracy and growing political polarization are severely hampering the implementation of sustainable reforms. This is one of the main findings in the Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) 2018 study by the Bertelsmann Foundation.

SGI is an international monitoring tool, which sheds light on the future viability of all 41 countries in the OECD and the European Union. On the basis of 140 indicators, we assess democratic standards, the quality of governance and reforms in the areas of economics, social affairs and the environment. More than 100 international experts are involved in our cross-national survey.

The most recent study highlights how waning standards of democracy and growing political polarisation hamper sustainable reform. Governments in countries including the United States, Hungary and Turkey are deliberately stoking social tensions rather than seeking consensus.

The report shows that the quality of democracy in many western industrial nations is waning, with democratic standards declining in 26 of the countries surveyed, compared with similar data from four years earlier. ‘Even within the OECD and the EU, the model of liberal democracy is subject to growing pressure—in some countries this means that even central democratic and constitutional standards such as media freedoms are already severely damaged or undermined,’ it finds.

Compounding this worrying trend, the study’s authors identify a simultaneous decline in the adequacy of governance, with many countries losing ground on key measures of good governance. more>

Democratising Europe: by taxation or by debt?

Europe desperately needs to resolve its collective-action problem to emerge from the crisis. Democratizing Europe, with a fiscal capacity, is better than monetary easing.
By Manon Boujou, Lucas Chancel, Anne-Laure Delatte, Thomas Piketty, Guillaume Sacriste, Stéphanie Hennette and Antoine Vauchez – On December 10th 2018 we launched a Manifesto for the Democratization of Europe, along with 120 European politicians and academics. Since it was launched, the manifesto has accrued over 110,000 signatures and it is still open for more. It includes a project for a treaty and a budget enabling the countries which so wish to set up a European Assembly and a genuine policy for fiscal, social and environmental justice in Europe—all available multilingually on the website.

In the Guardian, on December 13th, Yanis Varoufakis presented his ‘Green New Deal’ as an alternative to the manifesto, which he considers to be irrelevant.

The Varoufakis plan builds on the European Investment Bank (EIB) which is responsible for issuing bonds to the value of €500 billion per annum, including these securities in the program of purchase of securities by the European Central Bank (ECB).

The main criticism by Varoufakis seems to be the following: why do you want to create yet more new taxes when one can create money? Our budget is indeed financed by taxation, whereas his plan is financed by public debt.

In his proposals, private firms involved in the ecological transition borrow money from the ECB, after having been selected by the EIB.

In fact, part of this arrangement already exists in the form of the Juncker plan. What Varoufakis adds is the purchase of securities by the ECB rather than by private investors. more>

Averting The Death Of Social Democracy

By Neal Lawson – Reformist social democracy has just two problems that result in its crisis. The first is that it’s heading in the wrong direction. The second is that it’s heading in the wrong direction in the wrong way.

If this crisis is to be averted then we need to understand why the ends and means are wrong and establish a different set of goals and ways of achieving them – ones applicable to the tail end of the second decade of the 21st century.

To set out an alternative course and process to get there is not so difficult. Some ideas are offered below. Others are available. What is difficult, and could well be impossible, is the ability of social democrats to truly adapt or transform both their course and their culture. Instead of change, their stock response is to blame the media, poor communications or even the people, and go on doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome.

Even when some recognize the scale of the crisis, they shrug because meaningful change is more difficult to face than the prospect of electoral annihilation. If social democrats can’t or won’t transform themselves then it will be up to others to carry the torch for a society that is more equal, democratic and sustainable and to fight the lurch to the far right.

Let’s start by observing that the crisis is not tactical or cyclical but existential because it is cultural and structural. It can be witnessed most obviously and dramatically through the electoral decline of almost every social democratic party in Europe. The Dutch, French and Greek parties have or have almost been eradicated. The Germans, the Italians and even the Scandinavians and Nordics struggle for life. more>

Why the Red Hen incident so troubles us as Americans

By Mark Penn – The United States of America is creeping toward creating a more imperfect union, one dominated by the power of the online mob that is threatening to disassemble more than 200 years of learning.

It was in “Federalist 10” that James Madison, the father of the Constitution, discussed the human tendency to divide into factions, which he defined as groups of people “who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens” and to the community. He warned how the zeal for certain government policies, for passionate leaders and for different religions could lead us to a society inflamed “with mutual animosities.”

Welcome to America 2018. Madison’s solution then was to tame the forces of the moment through a republic as opposed to a pure democracy.

This is done by electing the people’s representatives from across the country who would be more sensible and objective. They would face periodic elections, but were to be freed from the easily inflamed mobs that would be quick to trample the rights of others.

But in the modern age, as I document in “Microtrends Squared,” people are increasingly divided into factions, and whether it is through their news channels or their Twitter feeds, the ability to whip up crowds quickly and with slanted information has never been easier, or more dangerous. Forget about the Russians dividing us, we have to worry about us Americans doing the job of tearing the nation apart. more>

From a nation at risk to a democracy at risk: Educating students for democratic renewal

BOOK REVIEW

How Democracies Die, Authors: Madeleine Albright, Ronald Inglehart, Steve Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt.

By Fernando Reimers – Public schools were invented to prepare people for self-governance, and to work with others towards the improvement of their communities and for the betterment of society. These were the arguments Horace Mann used, in the 1830s, when he led a successful advocacy campaign to launch public education in Massachusetts. Since then, schools in America have in many ways provided students the capacities necessary to engage civically, to collaborate with others, across lines of difference, in making society better.

As American democracy has evolved, so have the ways in which schools embrace their civic mission. For much of their history, our public schools did not hold women and men to similar expectations, nor did they adequately educate African Americans and other ethnic minorities. It was only when social movements, such as the women’s movement and the civil rights movement, broadened our collective understanding of who should be included in the opportunity to participate in this democratic experiment of self-rule, that schools, in turn, broadened their focus to prepare women and minorities for civic engagement and leadership.

The global democratic setback is the most severe since the end of World War II.

It is time to replace the powerful compact and narrative that A Nation At Risk provided to guide our schools three decades ago, with a more capacious vision for how our schools can help our students stand up for a democracy that is very much at risk. more>

The future of political warfare: Russia, the West, and the coming age of global digital competition

By Alina Polyakova and Spencer Phipps Boyer – The Kremlin’s political warfare against democratic countries has evolved from overt to covert influence activities. But while Russia has pioneered the toolkit of asymmetric measures for the 21st century, including cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns, these tools are already yesterday’s game. Technological advances in artificial intelligence (AI), automation, and machine learning, combined with the growing availability of big data, have set the stage for a new era of sophisticated, inexpensive, and highly impactful political warfare.

In the very near term, it will become more difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between real and falsified audio, video, or online personalities. Malicious actors will use these technologies to target Western societies more rapidly and efficiently. As authoritarian states such as Russia and China invest resources in new technologies, the global competition for the next great leap in political warfare will intensify.

As the battle for the future shifts to the digital domain, policymakers will face increasingly complex threats against democracies. The window to mount an effective “whole-of- society” response to emerging asymmetric threats is quickly narrowing. more>